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A Lesson in Generosity

Over the last several years I’ve had the opportunity to fulfill requests of strangers posting on Craigslist in the “wanted” section.  It’s been a journey of blessing others, but also coming to certain realizations about myself, God, and the rest of humanity.  I have many stories, but one in particular came to mind today:

Sometimes I meet someone and there is an instant connection.  A feeling of camaraderie, common ground, something.  But sometimes there’s nothing.  Or maybe even a slight leaning towards dislike.  Perhaps you understand?

One fine November Sunday, I took my kids to church.  Steve was away for military duty, so it was just the two boys, myself, and the baby still in my belly.  I had answered an ad asking for help from a mom who left an abusive situation and moved to the area with her three children.  Home goods, warm clothes, and kid stuff were the requests.  In preparation to meet her I carefully scrutinized and downsized my children’s toy collection, rifled through their closet for some spare clothes in the needed sizes, and made a small pile of extra bedding and towels.  Not satisfied with the clothing I had for her oldest son (I had none) I made arrangements to buy some from another Craigslist ad.

So on that sunny Sunday, after church, we met a lady to buy some clothes for a boy we’d never met.  The meeting was cordial and successful, as most like meetings are.  My boys and I then drove about an hour south to swoop in and bless the family.

We arrived at a low-income housing development and I carried the items to her apartment.  Her kids were napping so I quietly set the bags and boxes down and then she walked back to my car with me.

It’s easy to make a snap-judgement of a person, and here was mine of her: an unkempt woman with little education and possibly little common sense.  I know—super judgey of me.  But I imagine she is a product of her environment.  A sad commentary on how a portion of our population lives.  I found little to relate with her, beyond the fact that we are both women and mothers.  My instinct was to be slightly repulsed and judge the decisions she’d made that led her to need help.

She stood there next to me, long strands of her hair escaping her ponytail, t-shirt bulging with unseen rolls, and very little expression on her face.  It started to rain very lightly while we exchanged a few words.  There is little to say when two vastly different worlds collide.  I didn’t ask her story; it didn’t really matter to me.  Her story is important in its’ own way, but it wouldn’t have changed why I was there in that moment.  And I certainly didn’t need it as fuel to somehow feel better about myself for helping her.  Also I didn’t need her to try to justify her requests for help.  The bottom line was that I felt called to answer, so I did.  I didn’t need to understand the situation in order to be obedient.

And yet…as I drove away, wipers brushing away the fine mist landing on the windshield, I couldn’t help but feel she wasn’t grateful enough for the help I had just provided.  No big thank you’s, no teary eyes, no long-winded explanations of how this gesture was so meaningful to her.  Didn’t she know the trouble I went to orchestrating this?  Didn’t she understand the significance of God pressing on someone’s heart?  Or even worse…did she feel entitled to receive help from strangers?  Surely God had not answered the prayers of a woman who had not even prayed!

I was on the verge of doubting my divine purpose in responding to her ad when I heard a gentle whisper in my soul, “it was not her prayer I was answering”.

Understanding poured over me as I caught the image of a grandmother far away saying “Dear Lord, please provide for my grandbabies”.  And another image of the oldest son, as he had been taught by his grandma, saying “Dear Lord, please help us”.  I had goosebumps followed by peace.  Peace in my purpose, and peace at my lack of understanding of that purpose.  It is very freeing to surrender my expectations.  When I give someone something, the natural response I expect is to immediately hear an appropriately heartfelt “thank you”.  That’s just the normal course of events.  But what about the times when it doesn’t quite shake out that way?  Does it mean that I gave to the wrong person?

I think it boils down to another life principle: I am responsible for my actions and not everyone else’s.  So if I’m acting in obedience…I don’t need to be concerned with the response.  I don’t usually have the big picture.  So if I feel led to hand someone a loaf of bread and they throw it on the ground and stomp on it…I’m probably not going to be happy with that outcome but it doesn’t mean there was no purpose to the exchange.  I don’t need to understand.  Rarely will I understand.

So back to this lady with three kids.  I don’t know the full story.  I don’t know why her persona rubbed me the wrong way.  I don’t know if there’s any validity to my impression of a praying grandma.  But I was blessed with the opportunity to give and I took it.  And regardless of the outcome, I was obedient and provided an example of generosity and obedience to my children.  Over two years later I still think back to that woman and her family (and pray for them!).  I truly hope she was blessed and grateful for what we gave.  However, I know that I have been richly blessed by the lessons I learned and the grace I now more willingly extend to people.

The boys and I drove out of the neighborhood and had a fun afternoon together, seeking more adventure an hour south of our usual stomping grounds.

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